Part Fourteen in the Derailleur Series
My first morning home I was awakened very early by my mother. She was standing in the doorway of what used to be my room and was shouting my name.
She and my dad picked me up from McCarren Airport in Las Vegas the night before, the closest airport to their home in Washington, Utah, a place of some considerable contention when I left for my mission service eighteen months previous. They didn’t agree with my going, with most objections being financial. They had just retired, living on a modest pension, and my volunteer missionary service along with my savings posed a potential burden to them. I had sold my car and worked to save and pay my own way and had help from members in my local congregation, so I felt self-sufficient enough to go.
They had other reasons as well. My mother was a devout Lutheran for one, though there was never a time throughout my Latter-day Saint life where she wasn’t of complete support to me. Going to Belgium and France as a Mormon missionary would concern just about any mother, so I think her reticence was normal, if not rooted in the difference between our faiths. My father was a sixth-generation Mormon, though he was bitter against the church for various reasons, and thought the end of my adolescence would be better suited to college. We got into several heated discussions, one of which ended with a hole punched through the wall of the den in their home. Not my proudest moment.
While I was in the Mission Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah – an institution where elders and sisters are taught proselyting rhetoric, primed in their foreign language (if any) and introduced to cultural aspects of the regions in which they’d soon be serving – President Joe J. Christensen spoke at a fireside where he told anecdotes of the inactive father of one missionary and the non-member mother of another becoming reactivated and baptized as blessings of their respective son’s missionary efforts. I thought Joe was talking to me, and took this as a personal challenge throughout my missionary service.
But nothing changed in my home, a notion reinforced when my parents and I got to the car in the parking lot at McCarren. They both did the ritual they’ve been practicing long before I was even born, each lighting a cigarette and cracking a window. I knew that despite my faithful efforts and Joe’s promises, I’d come home to to same, but lighting up was their way, I think, of saying don’t get your hopes up. It really didn’t matter to me, though. I was done.
If you’ve lived with a smoker you know there’s this incredibly aromatic moment at the cusp of lighting a cigarette, the first burn of fresh tobacco, that first inhale and release. From then on it’s not so pleasant, but in those first moments, I knew I was home again.
That feeling lasted the evening, even most of the night, exhausted from the journey home where I was finally able to sleep. It would leave the moment I gained consciousness, my mother trying frantically to wake me up from the night terror.
I was standing in the middle of my bed, screaming.
One characteristic I’ve learned about myself over time is an ability to endure up to a point. I don’t believe it’s anything I’ve learned or adopted, it’s just how I respond, a trait inherited from my parents. I was working on a film years ago as a Steadicam operator and the shot I was attempting involved running up a steep hill on a cobblestone road following a professional cyclist in the time trial portion of the Tour DuPont. It was the second day of a two-week shoot. A Steadicam is a device worn by its operator that stabilizes a motion picture camera while the operator follows the action, giving a stable point-of-view shot of the action, in this case, a determined cyclist conquering Monkey Hill in Wilmington, Delaware. Loaded up, my rig weighed about sixty pounds, and I was running with it, framed on the rider when I blew out my left ankle on a cobblestone.
This was the beginning of a shoot, a long and expensive process, and there was no one to take my place. Do or die. I grew up with a saying from my dad, one I think he brought back from the Pacific Theater of the Second World War, never say “die,” say “damn it.” So I did. I taped up the joint and shot an aggressive schedule for the next fourteen days, shlepped camera gear around the Eastern Seaboard, shot from a motorcycle and on my feet with the help of a remarkable assistant, flew home and disintegrated. My ankle was surgically rebuilt the following week.
I don’t boast of this, I write this to just illustrate my nature. By the time I got home to Playa Della Rosita, it had been six months since I was brutalized, and for that time I sucked it up, played it cool, got back to work and did my job. At home, near my mom, in REM sleep in my own bed I broke loose, just temporarily. It wasn’t long before I stuffed it all back deep inside, ashamed, bitter, embarrassed, putting a way the trauma about which she would never hear.